Coach McKenzie on police brutality discussion: Be the change we wish to see


It can be difficult to explain to youth why the police might assault an unarmed citizen, especially in the citizen’s own home. As the investigation continues for the charge of police brutality against community organizer Al Flowers, Insight News takes a look at the culture of solutions through the eyes of various community leaders.

“We have to be the change we wish to see,” said Larry McKenzie, Charter School Liaison for Pillsbury United Communities and celebrated Boy’s Basketball Coach for Minneapolis North High School. “The youth don’t know the people serving the community. They fear (both) the perpetrators, and those serving them in leadership. Then they read all the stuff going on everywhere and think it’s the usual. It doesn’t leave (the youth) in a position of comfort,” he said.

With decades of powerfully successful service in training Twin Cities’ youth, McKenzie is very clear about the instruction to steer clear of violence and compromising situations. “I make sure kids understand that you have to be careful how you carry yourself, and to not put yourself in situations where you find yourself, by yourself. You have to take the necessary precautions,” said McKenzie. “I tell them that if you’re in a situation where you get stopped (by the police), make sure you’re responding in an appropriate manner. And when all else fails, say a prayer.”

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The unification of Twin Cities’ community organizers following the Flowers incident provided an important moment to galvanize energy for solutions to all forms of community safety and progress. Petty bickering and posturing often undermines valuable initiatives, though this is certainly not exclusive to the Twin Cities. Lamenting difficulties in organizing change McKenzie said, “We have to get past the crabs-in-a-barrel syndrome. It’s too tough to get ten people in a room to talk about solutions.”

McKenzie is one, of the diverse group of leaders contributing to the Community Standards Initiative organized by Flowers in 2011. “CSI is a collaboration of people to restore our value systems. A lot of our community challenges are about forgetting history. We’ve gotten away from things that have always held us together. I mean, we’ve lost the village when we don’t know our neighbors,” he said.

In considering the difficulty of helping youth understand potentially unwarranted police aggression when it seems a citizen has done all the right things, McKenzie recalled the words of his former mentor, accomplished educator and businessman John K. Cameron. “J.C. used to say, ‘Nobody ever said life was going to be fair. There’s good and there’s bad in everything. All you can do is to do the right thing.”

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